The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent letters to members of Congress on Saturday urging lawmakers to vote against the healthcare reform bill unless fixes are made on the bill's language regarding federal funding of abortions.

The letter, signed by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chair on the Committee on Migration, was posted on the USCCB's website Saturday evening.

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"The Senate bill extends abortion coverage, allows federal funds to pay for elective abortions (for example, through a new appropriation for services at Community Health Centers that bypasses the Hyde amendment), and denies adequate conscience protection to individuals and institutions," the letters states in explaining the reasons for the bishops' opposition.

"...Despite claims to the contrary, the status quo prohibits the federal government from funding or facilitating plans that include elective abortion. The Senate bill clearly violates this prohibition by providing subsidies to purchase such plans. The House bill provided that no one has to pay for other people’s abortions, while this Senate bill does not. While the Senate provides for one plan without abortion coverage in each exchange, those who select another plan in an exchange to better meet the special needs of their families will be required to pay a separate mandatory abortion fee into a fund exclusively for abortions. This new federal requirement is a far more direct imposition on the consciences of those who do not wish to pay for the destruction of unborn human life than anything currently in federal law."

While siding with Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and his allies on abortion language, the bishops also sided with the Hispanic Caucus in its problem with the bill.

"The Senate bill would not only continue current law that denies legal immigrants access to Medicaid for five years, but also prohibit undocumented immigrants from buying insurance for their families in the exchanges using their own money," the letter adds. "These provisions could leave immigrants and their families worse off, and also hurt the public health of our nation."

The letter accuses Democratic leadership of "ignoring the pleas of pro-life members" when it comes to the bill's abortion language.

"With deep regret, but clear in our moral judgment, we are compelled to continue to urge House members to oppose the Senate bill unless these fundamental flaws are remedied."

The bishops' letter comes after the Catholic Health Association of the United States issued a March 11 letter urging support of healthcare reform, and after Network, a social-justice-oriented group of Catholic nuns, came out backing the bill. That was followed by a March 18 statement from the president of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious on behalf of the membership (representing 20 percent of nuns in the U.S.) saying that the bill was inadequate in its abortion language.